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Is celebrating Thanksgiving with a formal sit down meal against Halacha?

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You might want to be more specific: celebrating how? –  msh210 Nov 23 '10 at 7:31
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Right. If you were to attend mass beforehand and recite a Christian benediction at the start of the meal, one would be hard pressed to say that this is not against Halacha. However, there are many who have asserted that it is entirely permissible, and even a good thing, to celebrate Thanksgiving as a real holiday, including with a meal. Alex's answer below seems a good place to start as far as sources are concerned, but there are others. Unfortunately I need more time to compile something. –  Seth J Nov 23 '10 at 17:25
    
See: tfdixie.com/special/thanksg.htm –  b a Jun 27 '12 at 18:50

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There is a good summary of the pros and cons, and the various halachic opinions, here. In a nutshell: R' Moshe Feinstein and R' J.B. Soloveitchik seem to have little or no problem with such a meal, while R' Yitzchak Hutner (all three zt"l) argues that it is prohibited as a gentile custom.

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From the conclusions: "So long as one avoids giving the celebration of Thanksgiving the appearance of a religious rite (either by occasionally missing a year or in some other manner making it clear that this is not a religious duty) the technical problems raised by Rabbi Feinstein and others are inapplicable." I've made it my informal practice to make sure to not have turkey at least once every few years. I made a roast last year, and no one complained! –  Isaac Moses Nov 23 '10 at 15:32

Not to replace, but to add to, Alex's link and synopsis, R' Mordechai Willig gave a great Shi'ur about xmas in which he touched on other holidays, including Thanksgiving. I listened to it a long time ago, so I don't remember everything he said, but he addressed it, and I found the Shi'ur very enlightening and informative on a whole range of related issues.

Here is the link to the Shi'ur (audio).

Here is the link just to the sources (Hebrew).

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There is ongoing dialouge among contemporary poskim on this subject. See R. Michael J. Broyde and R. Mark (Moshe) Goldfeder’s article “Valentine’s Day and Jewish Law.” The crux of the issue (from Rav Moshe’s point of view) is whether or not the holiday is tied to religious sensibilities. One way he devises to test whether the “holiday” has become completely secular is whether it is celebrated across the globe, meaning across cultures and religions. The relevant passages from Rav Moshe are quoted below with emphasis added.

Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:11(4)

והנה פשוט לע”ד דאף מה שהוא ודאי נחשב חוק העכו”ם, אם הוא דבר שחזינן שעושים כן כולי עלמא דנכרים, גם אלה שלא שייכי כלל לאמונתם ולחוקותיהם, מטעם שכן יותר ניחא לעלמא להנאתם, כבר ליכא על זה איסור דבחוקותיהם לא תלכו. וגם פשוט שאם יעשו עכו”ם חוק לע”ז שלהם לאכול איזה מין מדברים הטובים והראוים לאכילה – שלא יאסר אותו המין לאכילה. וכמו כן כל הנאה שבעולם, לא שייך שתיאסר בשביל שעכו”ם עשו זה לחוק.

and Even HaEzer 2:13

בדבר לעשות איזה שמחה בימי איד של הנכרים אם הוא מצד אמונתם, אם בכוונה מחמת שהוא יום איד אסור מדינא ואם בלא כוונה יש לאסור מצד מראית העין, וסעודת מצוה כמילה ופדה”ב יש לעשות אפילו בימי איד שלהן, דאין לאסור בשביל מראית עין סעודה המחוייבת, אבל סעודת בר מצוה טוב לדחות על יום אחר, ואף נישואין יש לקבוע לכתחלה על יום אחר. ויום ראשון משנה שלהם וכן טענקס גיווינג אין לאסור מדינא אבל בעלי נפש יש להם להחמיר.

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Um, unfortunately, I don't think you can count R' Moshe as a contemporary Posek anymore. –  Seth J Feb 15 '13 at 15:08
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@SethJ I won't debate that but sorry if I was unclear, the poskim in the linked article are debating the topic and citing Rav Moshe as their source. The debaters are alive and well. –  user2110 Feb 15 '13 at 15:32

An excerpt from this article in which Rav Eliyashiv is discussion adopting various non-jewish practices there is a source which would seem to prohibit it and is cited as follows

the Gra (to Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 178]) rules stringently, that we are even forbidden to adopt non-Jewish rituals that are based on obvious and positive motivations.

Further on the author speculates as to a comprehensive definition of Halacha according to Rav Eliyashiv

More precisely, perhaps, Halacha consists of both rulings (Din) and opinions (Da'as). In both these teshuvos Rav Elyashiv is clarifying that even if something may be permitted according to a narrow ruling, it may still remain out of sync with the value system of the Halachic minded. And, in cases where the questioner is motivated by sentiment, the spirit of the law should definitely prevail.

This would seem to argue that even if there is strict halachic grounds to permit it, if it conflicts with "halachic sensibilities" it would still be assur ie against halacha in the broadest sense.

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Well, yea, but the Rama argues on the Gra, and longstanding (Ashkenazi at least) custom is like the Rama in this case, even though the Gra is more compelling in the gemaras. (btw I cite this same Gra here) –  Double AA May 22 '13 at 3:37
    
Do you have any reason to think that a seudas hodaah is against "halachic sensibilities"? –  Double AA May 22 '13 at 3:42

Rabbi Marc Angel of Shearith Israel in NYC wrote a very interesting blog post on the subject.

Worth noting, he writes:

When President Washington called for a day of Thanksgiving, Jews observed this day with joy and pride. At Shearith Israel in New York, the Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas arranged a suitable service of prayer, and delivered an address in which he called upon Jews "to support that government which is founded upon the strictest principles of equal liberty and justice."

I attended Shearith Israel on Thanksgiving last year (2011), and they did, indeed, recite an abridged version of Hallel and have other festive arrangements.

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